Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a physical and psychological condition caused by extremely distressing or traumatic events. Although most people will experience a trauma in their lives only a very small portion of them will go on to develop PTSD. It can affect anyone and happen at any age, including during childhood.
What Causes PTSD?
PTSD occurs after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Such events can range from accidents and violent deaths to sexual assaults and military combat. They can be large scale events such as a natural disaster or very personal events involving those close to you. You may have experienced the event yourself however PTSD can also develop in witnesses to traumatic events and even in the family of those who have experienced them.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
The most common symptom of PTSD is re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares or flashbacks. You may dream about the trauma or other things which frighten you and can experience physical symptoms like a rapid heart beat or diziness when faced with traumatic memories. Often sufferers will avoid things related to the trauma. You may avoid people or places that remind you of the trauma or thoughts and feelings related to it. And in some cases victims will recall nothing of the trauma at all. You can also feel more irritable or angry than normal and may feel overly alert. Many sufferers find their concentration impaired and others experience problems sleeping.
After experiencing a traumatic event almost all people will experience some of the symtpoms of PTSD. For most people these will dissappear quickly but for PTSD sufferers the symptoms won’t decrease. PTSD usually develops in the hours or days immediately following a traumatic event however for some symptoms can show months or years afterwards. The distressing nature of PTSD can lead to other emotional or physical symptoms such as substance abuse, guilty or suicidal feelings and headaches or chest pains.
What is the treatment for PTSD?
PTSD is usually treated with a combination of therapies and if necessary, medication. The most successful types of therapy include cognitive therapy and group therapy, which can help reduce the isolation and social stigma surrounding the condition. Variants of exposure therapy, where the sufferer is gradually exposed to places or memories related to the traumatic event, are also used. Other common therapies prescribed include stress inoculation training, and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing both of which help resolve symptoms which result from unresolved life events.
Medications have been shown to benefit those with PTSD but are rarely successful when not coupled with therapy. Common medications prescribed include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antidepressants. However there is also research which supports the use of mood-stabilisers such as lithium or carbamazepine to combat symptoms of agression or uncontrolled mood. Additionally benzodiazepines can be used for short-term anxiety relief.